Last updated: 3 October 2023

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 2: Nietzsche on Truth and

Transcript: Lecture two will attempt to answer one of the paradoxes I raised in the first lecture – and this will be a specific form of it – and that’s a rather famous charge in philosophy. In fact this is the charge of relativism and one of the things that professional philosophers do in order to display their professional credentials is to respond to the relativist and to the sceptic. Nietzsche has been accused of being a relativist. One form of this accusation is a kind of mislabelling – in my opinion it’s a mislabelling – of Nietzsche’s view about the function of truth and lie. He opposes that to true and false. Truth and lie. The function of that within philosophical discourse. He has an account of that we are going to discuss.

One of the ways that philosophers have mislabelled this position is “perspectivism”, and the reason I hate that label is like “relativism”, it makes someone think that someone – in this case Nietzsche, or someone else – might hold the absolutely ridiculous view that every view was as good as every other view. That is a complete straw person argument. No-one has ever – or does now – hold the view that every view is as good as every other view.

So whenever the spectre of relativism is raised, you know, by someone for you, either in the popular press or in a university setting, the first small thing that should come to your mind is there aren’t any. So the refutation in a certain sense is bound to miss at least one point, namely that you are not arguing against anyone. Now it could be the case that my audience today, or the audience that will watch the tapes, I will find someone in the United States, or across the world that will hold the view that every other view is as good as every other view. But if I do, it will be very idiosyncratic, and in my experience so far, no.

Nietzsche is not a relativist, and I think perspectivism is also an unfortunate term to describe Nietzsche’s style of thinking. Because perspectivism calls up the idea that, “Well, I am right from my perspective, and you are right from your perspective, and everybody is right from their perspectives”, and I also don’t believe that that’s a view that anyone can hold or has ever held. I think, and this is the the way I will try to discuss Nietzsche’s paradox in terms of relativism, is that…

Nietzsche was opposed to what might be called the dogmatism of not only the Western Philosophical tradition, but the Western Theoretical tradition in general. Its dogmatism in this regard. Believing about its beliefs that they were good not only for them and their tribe. Because after all Western Civilisation is a big word. It’s a strange word. You know, big words and strange words, but, after all it is just a very large tribe with very large armies and lots of televisions, and a large historical project, but still its a tribe. Big, big tribe.

I think Nietzsche considered it dogmatic to hold that your beliefs – or the beliefs of your tribe – were binding on all. That is the way I want to present Nietzsche’s perspectivism. In other words, he didn’t believe that all beliefs were equally good, interesting, or whatever. In fact, I am sure he considered some of his own beliefs to be far more interesting than for example, the beliefs of John Stuart Mill, who he referred to as “That blockhead”. Or I think that he found his views more interesting than the views of the English Utilitarians in general, about whom he said “No human beings want to be happy. Only the British want that”. [crowd laughter]. So I think he thinks his views were more interesting than those.

And I think where the dogmatism for Nietzsche came in was when you search for views… and then develop your beliefs, and then think that they should be binding on all. This is not a criticism that you shouldn’t have beliefs, or that all your beliefs are no better than anyone else’s. It’s just the further belief about your beliefs that everyone else should believe the same damn way. So it’s a meta-belief, if you will. A belief about your beliefs.

In fact I think that it’s perfectly consistent to believe a wide number of things with a great deal of passion, and then believe about those beliefs that you could be wrong. I hope that’s not a further paradox, I do not think that it is. It seems to me to be perfectly consistent to believe something passionately, to believe it in a very deep way and have a belief about that belief that “Well, you know. I could be wrong.”

So the dogmatism that Nietzsche is after runs very deep in our theoretical traditions. I can’t overestimate this. It’s a dogmatism that has continued throughout what might be called the project of the West, and it’s even built into the Socratic pursuit. When Socrates asks the question “What is X?”, and what fills in the “X” are those famous Greek ideals; virtue, excellence, beauty, goodness, and so on. Now Nietzsche had the highest respect for Socrates, and as I just said, as I said before, Nietzsche considered him to be an exemplary person, coupled with Plato’s construction of him, they in a way were ideal for Nietzsche.

But the dogmatic part of Socrates was that Socrates wanted – for Nietzsche – Socrates wanted an answer to the question “What is X”, like what is beauty, goodness, truth, excellence. It wouldn’t be good for just Socrates, or good for the Greeks, but once discovered had to bind everyone. In other words, it wouldn’t be enough just to believe it, which seems… what Nietzsche calls the gay, happy theorist to be enough, to just find a belief that you can live with and believe. No, the theoretical enterprise of the West is imperialistic in a way. It’s got to find a belief that others then have to believe, and that he considered dogmatic.

This by the way you may notice is not – in my view – a relativist position at all. Because it’s not inconsistent with the view that you think your beliefs – precisely because they are your beliefs – are superior to some other beliefs. In fact I take it to be banally the case that if you didn’t think that, they wouldn’t be your beliefs. In other words, somebody comes up to you and gives you some other ones and you go “Oh hell, those are better than mine”. Then they will be yours after you have heard them out, right? So it seems fairly natural that you believe your beliefs. The dogmatic assumption is that everyone else should believe your beliefs. And this is not relativism. There have been some modern philosophical names attached to this position called fallibilism, and yet Nietzsche is too interesting in a certain way to be called that either.

In other words, I want to present Nietzsche not specifically within that philosophical context, but I do want to present him as addressing it, which he does. And anyone who has ever addressed any issue in philosophy knows that the irritating thing is how the simplest questions can turn into philosophical ones. Sometimes philosophers realise that what we do is ask a series of rhetorical questions that come up whenever people are very frustrated. In other words, we ask questions like “What the hell does that mean?”. You know, generally in a fight – a domestic fight – a rhetorical question. “I can’t do the dishes now” – “Well what the hell does that mean?”. Well, the philosopher takes that rhetorical question and just places it in a foreign context. Someone goes “There’s an object” and you go “Object… what the hell does that mean?” [crowd laughter]. In the other context, the remark had a home and a meaning, and so it means that the person’s pissed, I guess. Or upset, okay. In this other context though, “What does it – you know – does it mean?” doesn’t seem to have any purchase.

About those, sort of, metaphysical beliefs, Nietzsche was no metaphysician. In fact, he thought that was, in a way, a very pompous thing to be. To try to answer those kinds of questions in a way binding for all. Now I call that a kind of imperialism, and I didn’t use that political term without thinking about it for a while. It’s the kind of imperialism – this dogmatic tradition against which Socrates saw himself fighting – is the kind of imperialist tradition we might have in some of our educational institutions when we have an African-American student who speaks eloquent rap street language talk. And I am not trying to say that’s all that African-Americans speak. Some of them are Neo-Conservatives that garble around as bad as others. Paleo-Conservatives. You know, some are just as unfortunately stupid as their Anglo-American, or Anglo-Saxon counterparts.

No, but I mean I am talking now about, you know, someone who does… says “ain’t” and repeats themselves, rhymes and things. Well, in a way it’s just imperialistic to think that that is somehow less profound than the Cambridge accent that discusses in detail the problem of relativism. It is not only a class and a racial bias, it’s just stupid. Because, as William James once said “The trail of the human serpent is over all”. There are many forms of life, many cultures, many ways to look at things. And Nietzsche at his best expresses in his work that diversity and that complexity of the many ways to interpret, to speak.

Now, “imperialistic” in this educational sense means that we want you to leave our institutions of higher learning talking like we talk and writing like we write. And we divide through by the issue of whether you think at all, because all the evidence we have for that is what you have said and what you have written. You may be not thinking at all, or thinking very bizarre thoughts, or you may be on some hallucinogenic drug, who knows what’s inside. But if you leave there writing like we write, talking like we talk – in short obeying relations of power – then you are educated. You certainly… and certainly Nietzsche saw this as conformity, and not connected with truth.

So before I tell you what… Nietzsche doesn’t give a positive theory of truth. I’ll give you two things quickly. One is the standard philosophical refutation of relativism. I’ll give you that quickly. Because there is not much point in taking a long time to deliver a banality. The second thing I’ll give you quickly is the current, I guess, the most widely accepted theory of truth in philosophy, which again, because it’s a banality I won’t take long in presenting. Because it’s uninteresting.

Ah, the first. The refutation of relativism, which is taken to be the view – as I said – that any view is as good as any other. Which could be restated as “Any proposition and/or statement is as true as any other”, right? Views can be turned into statements: “I believe that ‘X'”. All of those are as true as any others. Well, here’s the philosophical refutation of that view, which I have already said no-one holds. Socrates in fact comes up with this refutation. Namely lets take the view that all views – I mean all statements – are as true as any others, you know, therefore you have a statement like this.

Let’s say that we take the strong relativist way of stating that, which is “There is no truth”. That’s the strong relativist way to state it. If there were any relativists, but I mean, you know. “There is no truth”. And then the philosopher asks: “Well, if there is no truth binding for all”, [in other words there is] “No truth”, for a philosopher, since that amounts to the same thing for most mainstream positions. “There is no truth”. What’s odd about the sentence “There is no truth”? Well, we know what’s odd about it. What’s odd about it is there must be one. Namely that one. The sentence “There is no truth” must be true. This is how philosophers refute things. Because if it’s not true, then there is truth.

So it looks as though the relativist is involved in what philosophers call a “self referential paradox”. Namely, the relativist can’t state his or her position because in stating it they must appeal to the notion of truth, which their position attempts to undermine. That’s the Socratic, and still a standard refutation of relativism.

Well there is another thing, and in the dialogues this works perfectly, because Plato is writing them, so he gives Socrates his lines and the interlocutors their lines, so Socrates wins a lot of the debates that way. Which is the same reason that certain political figures who are in power now do well at a lot of press conferences. When you know both the questions and the answers, the dialogue, discussion and debate simplifies greatly, rapidly.

The relativist could always just say this about someone – if there were such people, again, Nietzsche perhaps was supposed to be scandalously one – the relativist could always say “Homie don’t play that”. In other words, “No, no, no, no, when I said there was no truth, I was just trying to irritate you, I don’t play that truth game, I don’t talk that way”. I talk about interesting, beauty, good for life, importantly more right than you, and so on, and that would create another interesting, diverse, and fascinating conversation.

I don’t know, how many of you have seen the movie “Lianna” by John Sayles, but this power to argue and get at the truth is also absolutely, I think, throughout the Western tradition, coded in a certain way and identified with males. I mean, it’s not accidental that all of the so called great philosophers are male. But there is a great scene in the movie where a woman loses an argument to her husband, who is a professor. When the argument is over she says “Well I don’t care if I lost the argument, if what you said is true, you are still wrong”. [crowd laughter]. And if you… in the scene, she’s right! He is still wrong whether he knew how to argue better or not, you see.

So there’s something that Nietzsche… there’s a kind of dogmatism in here that Nietzsche wants to root out the origins of. A kind of dogmatism, sort of, control over the instruments of what will count as true and false. What will count as true and false. It’s very important to get at.

Now, the banal theory that I promised you – that philosophers now hold about the truth – is Tarski’s theory of truth. It’s the redundancy theory of truth. When I state it, I expect some laughter, because this is a great product of the modern philosophical imagination. “Snow is white if and only if snow is white”, “Snow is white if and only if snow is white”. That’s the heart of Tasrki’s theory. It’s the redundancy theory. Namely, the thing is the case if and only if it is the case. Well what’s odd about that theory of truth – you may notice – is that it’s not really a theory of truth at all now, is it. It’s sort of a deflationary remark about how we use the word “true”. And we do use it in ordinary contexts that way.

For example, if I ask someone to hand me a Coke and they hand me a salt shaker, you know, that confuses me. Or if I say “That’s the Coke”, and it’s a lizard, they’ll say “That’s not true”, by which they’ll mean “It’s not a coke, it’s a lizard”, you know. But this incredible theoretical breakthrough should be not incredible at all, but totally deflationary and remind us that truth in the more mundane sense is just what all of you thought it was. It’s what is the case. That view of truth is not exactly what Nietzsche is attacking either, because it is so deflationary that it’s almost in the spirit of Nietzsche, if you will, almost. Because it’s a deflationary theory, it’s not some grand theory about how our sentences hook up with the world, or how our great Western texts; Milton, Shakespeare hook up with our deeper selves and humanise us so that we all vote Republican. It’s not that either. It’s not that either, see. It’s a mundane use of the word “true”.

So I think it is very unsatisfactory to view Nietzsche as being either a relativist or a perspectivist. What he’s interested in are those relations of force and power that would cause a species like ours to develop distinctions like true/false, and then to observe – as he does throughout several works – how a discourse of true/false is deployed. How it is used, what it makes possible, and what it makes impossible. And so for me those are much more interesting questions. How is the discourse of true/false deployed.

Ah, Nietzsche. The closest remark that he ever delivers to a theory of truth, I am about to read you. And I think this is again hyperbole, but it’s on the right track as opposed to some other remarks one might make about truth. This is a famous quote of Nietzsche’s, so I’ll give it to you. It’s from an essay called: “On Truth and Lie in the Extra-Moral Sense“. As we get to later lectures you’ll find out that Nietzsche is going to develop not only criticisms of… and genealogies – something I will have to explain – genealogies of how we use words like “true”, “false”, “truth”, “lie”, but of how we use words that are – in some sense – closer to us like “good” and “bad”, or “good” and “evil”, okay.

But in this essay Nietzsche says the following “What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms – in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that that is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and have lost their sensuous power. They are like coins which *have lost their pictures – faces – and which now matter only as metal, no longer as coins”.

That’s taken to be one of Nietzsche’s outrageous statements about truth, it’s that it’s metaphoric, it’s a sum of human relations, deployed in many fields of force. In short, mutually agreed upon fictions, which after long use seem obligatory to a people. And, I mean, this… I take it to be one of Nietzsche’s stronger remarks about truth. And I think that we can make that clear with the history of our own country.

There are certain things which after long use have become obligatory for us to believe are true. I have heard, and I have heard it ad nauseam… ad nauseam. Let me say it in my West Texas way. Until I want to puke, I have heard it. That the United States is a democracy. Because after long use, after herd like obedience to this word, we have come to believe it. The most dangerous thing – in some ways – that threatens our democracy is the belief of the overwhelming majority of our citizens that perhaps in some sense we do have one. If we questioned deeply what a democracy is. You know, a government in which the power really does come from a people or whatever. If we question these worn out metaphors, and looked behind… In other words, try to look for their origins in power and who deploys them, it might become interesting to see that this is an illusion about which we have long since forgotten that it is one.

This is… the power of Nietzsche’s genealogy is to look at how important words to us, like truth, good, evil, and in the case I just used, democracy. Not in order to destroy these words forever, or to destroy their employment, but in order to point out how they become worn out after long use. And certainly, compared to the vibrancy of the word democracy. You know, its earlier – as he said – earlier when the word was used in the dawning of the bourgeois revolutions, when it was used with such sensuous power, with such affect, you know, with little town meetings and public spheres, people fighting things out. Vigorous like that. At least as we idealise it, perhaps that was an illusion too. But compared to that, our current democracy does seem – to borrow the metaphor – to be like a coin without a face. A metaphor that is worn out and lost its power.

Now many of you are going to go “Oh it hasn’t lost its power, oh hell, everybody is becoming a democracy, the whole world is”. Which may just simply mean, in Nietzsche’s terms, that Nihilism, that threat that I mentioned before that comes along with modern life, along with the spread of the commodity and work as the relation that all humans will be subjected to, it may just simply mean that that will win. That that will win. And if it’s called democracy, it will just be a herd like lie, something we say to one another so that we don’t stand out at dinner parties.

I mean you don’t want to stand out. When someone says: “Well I don’t live in a democracy, I don’t think”, and you start giving reasons, see you stand out! It makes you feel uncomfortable. So this is part of Nietzsche’s take here, is that truths become comfortable through long use. So, through long use it becomes comfortable to say “You know, we are a democracy… Of course Shakespeare is a great writer…” and by the way, Shakespeare is a great writer, I think. I haven’t been picking on Shakespeare – I have been, but I like him. I didn’t think I’d live to see a culture where Mel Gibson would be Hamlet [crowd laughter], but I did. [crowd laughter]. I din, you know. I mean you all did. Most of us probably went. I went to see it. It’s very amusing, very amusing.

In any case let me dispatch with this charge of relativism. Nietzsche does have a view of truth and how it is deployed. And he takes our traditions, the Western ones, to be dogmatic on the issue. In fact to return after the little sidetrack down democracy – which was really supposed to just be a clue for some things I want to discuss later – to discuss the way in which this has been a masculine use of truth.

One of Nietzsche’s most famous… Nietzsche is known for all his sexist… Let me just say this right up front. Nietzsche is known for tonnes of sexist aphorisms. I mean it’s an interesting phenomenon that so many women theorists – brilliant ones that I know – love and read Nietzsche, in spite of the face that his text is filled with the most virulent sexism. I mean, Morton Downey would never say this stuff. I don’t know if any of you even remember him, but you know things like “When you go to women, always take a stick”, I mean even Morton didn’t say that, you know. Nietzsche did.

But again, Nietzsche… and I am not trying to get him off the hook for that. I think Nietzsche may have been making explicit some things that are implicit in theoretical settings like the university as well as in everyday life. But in any case, Nietzsche had a very intriguing question for philosophers. “What if truth turned out to be a woman, what then?”. In other words “Plato my friend, Kierkegaard my friend, what if instead of rational argument, that truth were more like gossip in that small fabric of conversation which has held the world together forever?”, you know. What if it turned out to be that subtle, complex weaving of narratives and stories and myths, and what we sometimes refer to as “Old wives tales”, ninety percent of which turn out to be very interestingly right, if you have noticed.

Generally, you know, “Oh, it’s an old wives tale that if you’ve got a bad cold that a little shot of whiskey and lemon juice will help”. Well great that it’s an old wives tale, it just shows how smart old wives were, right? [crowd laughter]. Because it will help. But Nietzsche’s challenging question to philosophers is “What if truth turned out to be a woman?”. The underlying thematic being this. “What if it’s not what you guys think it is?”. A lecture where you outline five propositions and then argue for them. And make points. Win arguments. See, all these sort of battlefield metaphors: “Deploy your arguments”, “Attack their position”, “Win your point”. What if truth didn’t turn out to be anything like that at all, Nietzsche asks rhetorically.

Of course, the best parts of Nietzsche are all rhetorical and poetic in my view. I will look at a systematic argument of his later, but I am not doing that now. Just trying to kid people who are a little too serious about the word “true”. Maybe not too serious. I am quite serious about it myself. The problem is that I am not serious about a theory like “Snow is white, if and only if snow is white”. The reason I am not so serious about that is because I already knew it, and so did all of you before you got here. You know. Obviously that doesn’t do anything interesting.

So the perspectivism of Nietzsche – the so called perspectivism – is more a reminder to us to guard against the dogmas of our own tradition. And the dogma here that I have examined is this one about belief. That our ways – “our” here means our tribes ways of perceiving – are our own. While they are our own, and we may very much cherish them and believe in them. Maybe we have cherished and believed in them long after we should have abandoned them, but that’s another issue. But our cherished beliefs can be believed without the dogmatic and extra belief that everyone else ought to believe the same damn way that I do.

And this is a hard lecture to deliver, because it’s difficult when – especially when – you are talking to undergraduate students at a university, because when they write in their notes… this, they go “Well, why should I believe what you just said?”. That only unsettles professors who are easily unsettled, because you really want students to ask that question about what you are doing. I mean, it is a very uncritical way to begin a course by just saying “Well hell, you ought to be interested in this, just because you grew up in this tradition and you know you should”. So if you get a course in Dante, Shakespeare, Eliot or whatever, and you just start off doing Eliot, Dante or Shakespeare, it’s just a dogmatic assumption that “Hell, every intelligent person ought to know this”. Why? Why.

Well, I mean, that unargued for assumption would have to be investigated, you’d have to ask and raise the issue of what makes this text important. Why is this important? So when I began that little invitation to follow me for a few lectures on Nietzsche, that’s what I was trying to do. Was to argue that it has some popular importance, and not to argue by giving you a demonstrative argument with premises and a conclusion, but to try in the spirit of Nietzsche… it would be more like inviting someone to dance, rather than it would be like convincing someone that your conclusion is true. For me that’s the metaphor for approaching the text of Nietzsche.

Nietzsche in a way invites you to a new human dance. He doesn’t hit you over the head with a new four premise argument with a conclusion. In fact, he wants to remind us that that style of proceeding, itself belongs deeply to a certain culture. Localisable. Certainly localisable. I mean, even if it were the whole planet, it would still be just one tiny little planet in one tiny little solar system in one tiny little piece of time and so on. So what haughty animals we must think we are that we know what the truth is. Nietzsche once said about the New Testament that the most profound sentence in it was when Pilate goes “What is truth?”. He says it negates a lot of mythology in the New Testament. It’s not mad at Pilate. Pilate raises a fundamental… you know “What is truth? Is the Christ the truth? I mean I don’t know, I’m not sure”. There is a little Pilate in everyone, you know, right? A little bit of that. Nietzsche is brilliant at bringing out these moments.

Okay now let me connect the issue – and I hope that I can do this briefly – let me connect the issue with truth and falsity, about which I don’t want to say much more, because someone will stop me in a minute and say “Is what you just said true?”. See, then I’ll be back in the paradox again, right. And of course I won’t be, because I’ll say “Ah yeah, I think so, I hope so, I hope it’s interesting anyhow”. If you want to talk about that for long, then homie will stop playing because he’s done philosophy a long time and I know how that goes. You know, I know how you are going to challenge me, and then I know how I am going to answer, so I am not going to play that way, we’ll talk about something else more interesting and better for the species than that. Than that debate.

So let me try to connect up now my remarks about Nietzsche’s so-called perspectivism, his so-called relativism, both of which I have rejected as ways of approaching it, and discuss what I do think is an important insight of Nietzsche’s, and that’s his denial that facts can determine our interpretations. In fact Nietzsche suggests over and over again, and this is a very similar claim to the one we have just discussed. Just as we discussed that truth and lie are somehow constructed rather than found. In other words, truths are constructed, not found like nuggets of gold in nature. In the same way, we don’t decide between competing interpretations on the basis of bare facts – for Nietzsche – either. It’s a very important point.

The bare facts cannot make us decide between two interpretations. Let me try to give a quasi scientific example, and then I’ll try to make Nietzsche’s position clear in another way. The quasi scientific example is this. Many of you are familiar with the cultural dispute between evolutionary biologists and creationists. Those are two radically different theories about the origin of the human species. I think you would all agree to that, right? Two radically different theories about the origin of the human species. Now how in the name of God could you settle that one with the facts? Because those theories, as it were, are interpretations that construct what you will count as a fact. What gets to count as a fact is going to have to count as a fact within the framework of that theory. So for example, and this cuts both ways, I am not in here to bash creationists, I don’t even think there is such a thing as “Creation Science”. It’s oxymoronic to me, but I don’t… I am not going to pursue that. I just want to use this example for a moment.

What possible counter evidence could convince a creationist that the world wasn’t God’s creation? Could you find some special uncreated thing and hand it to them? And go “This is uncreated. See, here’s a fact, your theory is wrong”. No, because whatever you find, if its a dinosaur track, and they want to argue that, you know, God created everything just like it is, here’s this dinosaur track and they have got no other explanation. I have even heard people say that the devil put them there to fool us. You see, because facts can’t overthrow a view like that. You follow me? Because the interpretation sets the context for what is going to count as a fact.

Now I am not going to get the evolutionary biologists off the hook here either. Because if they run across a duck billed platypus, and you’ve got all these evolutionary trees and stories, and this damn thing, you know, it doesn’t walk like a duck and quack like a duck, it quacks like a duck, and it has a tail like a beaver, and it swims like a fish, lays eggs like a… flies and all this crap, and they just go “Well, here’s its branch”. That’s the same thing, don’t you see! The theory has got to put it somewhere, it goes there. But that’s just the same thing as the creationists with the thing, you know. The theory, the interpretation, is going to construct what will count as a fact within that interpretation.

Now this is not the strong argument that there are no facts. You see that’s a dumb [argument]. Again, if you argue this point with many philosophers, they are going to say “Oh, well, you don’t believe in facts”. No. I don’t believe in bare facts. Things we bump into in the world without any notion of what they are at all and decide what we ought to think. There aren’t any such things. Because – the reason there aren’t – is because we are socialised into communities, we learn to speak languages, and along with that process come many semi-articulated theories we have already developed by the time we are six. You’d have to be almost a child to be close to the realm of bare facts. You know what I mean? It’s just… It would not show that you were developed, mature or intelligent. It would just show that you were so stupid, or so… not that children are stupid. Actually they are young, pretty and all that stuff. I have got a lot of them, they are also irritating. But anyway, that wouldn’t show that there are bare facts.

If you think they are bare facts, it just shows how poverty stricken your imagination is in the number of theories you hold about the world. Because if you hold a reasonable number of them, and all of us do whether we can articulate them or not. In fact, you know, one of the most insidious forms of interpretations are the ones about which we have forgotten – to paraphrase Nietzsche – that they are interpretations. We now think that that’s just the way it is. But no, facts come to us – and they do come to us – through the nets of interpretation. Through the nets of interpretation. And facts do not overthrow interpretations directly. Enough facts within your interpretation can wear it out in a certain way. In other words, certain interpretations can sort of outlive their usefulness for life, for the species. Can become unfortunate ways to continue to interpret. This process however is not itself rationally discussable. By that I mean there is no scientific account of that. It just happens.

I mean, it just happens that there was an Egyptian religion that was around for what? Two or three thousand years? Today no-one believes it. Christianity has been around a long time, and in a thousand years no-one may believe it. Because like with individual human lives, with planets, with nations, with religions, with gods, with whole universes, they just wear out and go away. And as the poet Yeats once said “Human beings are in love, and they are in love with what vanishes”. Which I think is a beautiful sentiment for Nietzsche, to be in love with what vanishes.

In any case, on all three points Nietzsche has many interesting things to say. I don’t want to just read them certatim, I want to try to reconstruct and gloss them for you. Many interesting things to say. On the construction of truth as fictions – and I don’t want you to take that in a strong sense, as just made up, no – truths as the products of communities, things that it was good for life that we believed, in short. Interpretations as our topic of discussion, rather than the facts which are constructed by them. And then I also, during this lecture, wanted to lay to rest some of your doubts about, well, this relativism, or perspectivism, or any view is as good as any other view. And if you believe this, once you start building universities that instead of Shakespeare and Milton you’ll have articles like “Jane Austen the masturbating girl”. It’s always quoted in the press as an example of one of these new feminist deconstructive, you know… deconstruction, feminist, relativist, Marxist, neo wild things that’s going on at all the universities corrupting all your children. Aren’t you scared? Hell, aren’t you scared? I wouldn’t be. The challenge to traditional interpretations is itself a tradition built into our tradition. To be absolutely ruthlessly critical is a tradition built into our tradition. [applause].

« »